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KEEPING THE FAITH

Starring: Edward Norton, Jenna Elfman, Ben Stiller
Director: Edward Norton
Rated: M

WHAT a pity Keeping the Faith is so slight, so predictable.

It has the potential to be either a very funny and interesting look at the demands and commitments of religious faith or a serious exploration of some of the issues involved with the choices for priestly celibacy or commitment in marriage.

Jake (played by Ben Stiller), Brian (Edward Norton) and Anna (Jenna Elfman) have been friends since primary school. In the eighth grade Anna leaves New York with her family for California. Meanwhile, Jake and Brian remain life-long friends.

Incredibly, Jake becomes a rabbi and Brian becomes a Catholic priest. They are, respectively, dynamic presences within their congregations. Fr Brian is a game show priest with highlights in his hair. Rabbi Jake is a Broadway act replete with a gospel choir for back up vocals! They continue to offer each other support and encouragement in the pursuit of their vocations.

After a gap of 12 years Anna returns to New York and the trinity is reunited. Anna is more beautiful, successful, confident and sassy. Rabbi Jake needs to find a wife and Fr Brian wonders whether the happiness of his ministry is worth the price of celibacy.

Edward Norton directs, produces and stars in this film. He really wanted to make it. The material is certainly worth exploring and Stuart Blumberg’s script raises some interesting issues. Anna asks questions of how Fr Brian can live a celibate life that many Catholics would like to ask. But why make a film that goes nowhere?

For all of its potential Keeping the Faith is filled with cliches and two-dimensional characters.As a romantic comedy it runs out of puff very quickly and as a triangular drama it never allows us to see the complexity and frailty of these attractive and interesting people.

And so it descends into a slight and silly waste of talent.

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